Krimiraja is a household name in Sri Lanka; when it comes to Ayurveda and traditional medicine, that’s the first brand and probably the only one which comes up. It has created a niche for itself in the country, to the extent where it does not seem to have any competitor formidable enough to fight with. It’s an enduring credit to Dr. Amaratunga that he has managed to balance the needs of commerce with those of a country that has seen resurgence in Ayurveda in recent years.
Dr. Amaratunga was born in Kiriwaththuduwa, situated 30 kilometres or one and a half hours from Colombo, to a fairly well-off family. He was the fourth in his family, and his father, M.D. Liveris Amaratunga, was a prominent Ayurvedic physician. From an early age, he had seen stacks and stacks of medicines at home. He remembers that even at the age of four, he was helping his father in preparing these medicines and with his patients. It was only natural that when he grew up, he would take to his father’s field like a duck to water.
Young Amaratunga was educated firstly at Kiriwaththuduwa Wijewardena Maha Vidyalaya. He passed his SSC Preparatory Exam with flying colours and entered Vidyarathna University College, Horana, near his hometown. True to form, he passed his A/Levels as well. During this time, he wanted to enter the Wickramaarachchi Ayurveda Institute in Gampaha, which he did while enrolling at Vidyalankara Campus. Admittedly he focused more on his apprenticeship at the Ayurveda Institute, which lasted five years as a Diploma course. Admittedly, he focused more on his apprenticeship at the Ayurveda Institute, which lasted five years as a Diploma course. He became a registered Ayurvedic doctor in 1971.
After leaving the institute at Gampaha, he threw himself into the family business. “My father died when I was 15,” he tells me, “He was a physician to the teeth, and an excellent one. It was he who really began the Krimiraja brand, when in 1949 he concocted a ‘prathyaksha’ (loosely translatable as ‘efficacious’) remedy for stomach ailments. That was when he began what I continued after he died. I was still engaged with my secondary education at the time.”
Krimiraja was begun initially with three or four products. Under Dr. Amaratunga’s oversight, the business portfolio has increased to about 300 products, from oils to mouthwashes to ‘kasaya’ to pimple cures. “We’ve targeted a wide customer base while keeping in mind that what we deliver should be based on traditional methods.” But for millions of Sri Lankans, Krimiraja’s signature would have to be the ‘karalguli’, a must-have and must-need for stomach ailments. “That was my father’s creation right through, and it remains our most popular product,” he tells me, confirming how much of a legacy Liveris Amaratunga left behind with his business. “It’s sad that I never got to see what his vision was.”
Currently, the success rate for a Krimiraja product would be anywhere from 70 to 80%. “No medicinal system can boast of a 100% cure rate,” he tells me, laughing, “But for us to sustain a high rate, instead of going back on what we’ve developed so far, we need to develop a strong Ayurvedic tradition.” I tell him here that such a need would have been addressed after S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike came to power in 1956 on a platform of the ‘panchamahabalavegaya’ (the five great forces) mentioned above, but he dismisses this. “We have not developed in any sector since independence. Not one bit, whether in Ayurveda or anything else.” What we have for ourselves, which we can proudly stamp our name on and show to the world, is our medicinal system, one which has survived many a millennium.
He argues that when it comes to teaching Ayurveda, we are much better off than we were in the past. “We have enough and more potential in our institutes today. Students are eager to learn our ancient medicinal methods, and they learn well. This will guarantee a healthy generation of practitioners in the years to come. What we lack however is an appropriate ‘aushadapanthiya’ (medicine portfolio, to roughly translate it).
“This is not a problem abroad. In the West, a proper industry that can cater to and accommodate students from the medical field has been set up. That’s not the case here. Unless we develop our product portfolio to compete with the West, our students will not be able to realise what they are good at when they leave their institutes. This means that their potential will be stunted; severely. That is why I say we must have a two-pronged attack, not only from the government but from the non-state sector too, from students, teachers, practitioners, and intellectuals.”